Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TOP STORY >> PCSSD will give teachers better pay starting out

Leader senior staff writer

Beginning teacher pay at the Pulaski County Special School District will be more competitive, but the most experienced teachers will benefit less if state Education Commissioner John Key approves the Monday night recommendation of the PCSSD Citizens Advisory Board.

Beginning teacher salaries will still be less than the starting salary in any of the six neighboring school districts.

While the recommended salary schedule adds $2,000 to the entry-level positions, it adds only $200 to the more experienced steps where teachers have advanced degrees.

First-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree will start at $34,106 for the 190-day 2015-16 school year. The current starting salary is $32,175.

A teacher with a Ph.D. and 17 years experience would earn $69,206.

A study averaging the six surrounding school districts — Little Rock, North Little Rock, Cabot, Conway, Benton and Bryant — showed beginning teachers in PCSSD were making $5,093 less than that combined average. Even with the increase, beginning PCSSD teachers will make less than teachers at any of the other six neighboring districts.


“The administration believes it is important to offer a competitive beginning teacher salary in order to recruit the best new teachers to the district,” its recommendation read. “It is especially important in order to recruit the best new minority teachers, who are always recruited heavily by all of the central Arkansas school districts.”

PCSSD beginning teachers earned only 86 percent of the average salary of beginning teachers at the other districts, while teachers at the top of the schedule earned nearly 105 percent of the average top of the other districts.

Because PCSSD is in fiscal distress and operated by the state, the recommendation goes to state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who serves as a one-man school board. The PCSSD school board was dissolved when the state took over in 2011.

In all, the new salary schedule will cost the district an additional $2.353 million for the next school year, according to Chief Financial Officer Bill Goff, who retires June 30.

Although the proposed change doesn’t sit well with those at the top end of the salary schedule, the personnel policy committee approved the recommendation by a 5-2 vote.

The committee is made up of five teachers and three administrators. One teacher missed the PPC meeting.


In other action, the advisory board recommended the administration’s fringe-benefit plan over the one proposed by personnel policy committee chairwoman Pam Fitzgiven.

The state mandates the specifics of the main health insurance plan and also requires the districts to offer and help pay for dental, vision, short-term disability, long-term disability and death and dismemberment insurance.

The district had been paying $42 a month per employee for the package and is currently paying $47 a month.

The current proposal would guarantee that PCSSD would pay at least $45 a month per employee for those services, but would retain the right to change short-term disability if it became too expensive.


According to advisory board member Lindsey Gustafson, the district wants to guarantee a financial level of service — at least $45 per employee — while many of the teachers want a guarantee of all the services, regardless of the cost. “We’re moving from products to price per month,” said Gustafson. “I find that troubling. That seems to be the trajectory.”

Superintendent Jerry Guess said that, even as the district tries to emerge from fiscal distress, the district would lose $20.8 million a year in desegregation payments from the state in three years. Issues such as salaries and benefits are affected.

The board chose to recommend the $45 minimum to the commissioner with the provision that, next year and subsequent years, the process will be more transparent and the PPC will be more involved in structuring the benefits plan.